In this week’s dispatches, we travel to Hong Kong to remember wuxia writer, Jin Yong, who passed away late in October. More recently, Hong Kong played host to an international literary festival that was unfortunately plagued by controversy. Elsewhere, National Novel Writing Month kicks off in the UK, even as two large publishing houses begin outreach initiatives, and another lands itself in a Twitter controversy.
Charlie Ng, Editor-At-Large, reporting from Hong Kong
In recent weeks, Hong Kong’s literary scene has been clouded by loss and anxiety. On October 30th, the prominent Hong Kong martial arts fiction writer Jin Yong passed away. His oeuvre of fifteen fictional works spawned numerous film and TV adaptations, and even popular computer games widely played by young and old alike in the Sinophone world. The Jin Yong Gallery at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum has set up a condolence point for the public to commemorate the wuxia fiction master from November 13th to 30th.
At the same time, this year’s Hong Kong International Literary Festival took place from November 2nd to 11th. The festival experienced an unexpected setback when the main venue provider, the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts, abruptly decided to cancel the venues for two talks involving Chinese dissident writer Ma Jian, namely “Hong Kong through the Lens of Literature” and “Ma Jian: China Dream”. The English translation of Ma’s most recent work, China Dream, has just been published by Penguin Random House, while the original Chinese version is forthcoming from a Taiwanese publisher. The cancellation provoked a fierce reaction from local literary and cultural circles. PEN Hong Kong issued a statement to express the organisation’s concern over Tai Kwun’s self-censorship and its threat to Hong Kong’s freedom of speech. Tai Kwun finally withdrew the cancellation and restored the events.
One of the festival’s panels, “Hong Kong through the Lens of Literature” (moderated by Asymptote’s Editor-At-Large for Hong Kong, Charlie Ng), featured a vibrant conversation between Hong Kong writers Ng Mei-kwan, Hon Lai-chu, and Ma Jian on the current state of Hong Kong literature and its possible future developments. The three writers affirmed the uniqueness of Hong Kong literature as a varied body of creative writing that expresses Hong Kong’s identity and experience and is shaped by special historical and linguistic contexts. In the nearly-cancelled “Ma Jian: China Dream” panel, Ma also engaged in a dialogue with moderator Maura Cunningham about his satirical dystopian novel China Dream, which presents a scathing portrait of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s grand vision of national greatness.
What should a budding translator read? What kinds of critical lenses should he or she apply to the process of translation? Assistant Editor Andreea Scridon shares some insights she gathered from the poetry translation workshop she attended this summer in Norwich, UK.
Every summer, the University of East Anglia in Norwich (home of the first Creative Writing program in the United Kingdom) holds an International Literary Translation & Creative Writing Summer School. This past July, the program was held in partnership with the British Centre for Literary Translation, and I attended the multilingual poetry translation workshop—led by internationally translated poet and writer Fiona Sampson—as an emerging translator of Romanian and Spanish into English. Below I recount musings on the most significant things I learned, which I hope will be of use to those potentially looking to break into literary translation.
A sound starting point in this discussion is the question of considering what to read as a translator. It should go without saying that a literary translator must necessarily be a well-read person in order to be able to make the best possible choices in terms of context, likely more so than anybody else. Having established this as a point of consensus, we discussed, both officially in workshops and amongst ourselves, what exactly a translator should be reading today. In my opinion, the library of a(n) (aspiring) literary translator should include contemporary literature, non-contemporary literature (both classics and obscure-but-lovely older works), and, of course, translations, preferably in as many languages as possible. For instance, examples of each subsection in my current library include Lauren Groff’s Florida and Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart (which are English-language works but useful examples of the spirit of today’s literary scene), Romain Gary’s The Kites and Mikhail Sholokhov’s And Quiet Flows the Don, and Anna Akhmatova’s various poetry collections in translation by Yevgeny Bonver, Richard McKane, and Alexander Cigale, to name only a few. I asked Ian Gwin, an emerging translator of Finnish, Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian who also participated in the Summer School, for suggestions. He recommends Keith Gessen’s A Terrible Country, noting that Gessen is himself a bilingual and that the theme of the two cultures meeting within the novel may be useful for a translator to consider. Regarding multiple translations, he recommends Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, pinning the more linguistically faithful translation of Eithne Wilkins and Ernest Kaiser against the newer one produced by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike. He also suggests the high-quality recent translation of Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz by Michael Hoffman, citing it as a long work that shows an attempt to render a specific style in a second language.
As we celebrate Asymptote‘s 30 issues in September, join us in congratulating our team members who also kept themselves busy with spreading our love of translation and literature. Take a look at this list and see where else we are bringing you the latest and the best of the literary world.
Communications Manager Alexander Dickow has released a new collection of poetry, Appetites, with MadHat Press.
Drama Editor Caridad Svich received the 2018 Ellen Stewart Award for Career Achievement in Professional Theatre from ATHE (Association of Theatre in Higher Education), and she has also been awarded a Tanne Foundation Award.
Assistant Interviews Editor Claire Jacobson had her translation of a short story by Mortada Gzar published by Words Without Borders.
Contributing Editor Ellen Elias-Bursac will participate in the Boston Translators Group’s (aka Dolet’s) International Translation Day/Month on 27 September at Cambridge Public Library.
We have such an amazing group of creative people over here at Asymptote. Check out some of our recent news and stay tuned for more of the international literature you love!
Poetry Editor Aditi Machado‘s poem “Epistle” appeared in Boston Review, and another poem of hers, “Archaic”, was reprinted by the Poetry Society of America.
From May 1 – 5, Romania and Moldova Editor-at-Large Chris Tanasescu aka MARGENTO organized DHSITE, a bilingual event introducing new computing technologies and their uses in education and research, at the University of Ottawa. Later this month, he will present a paper at the Kanada Koncrete poetry conference in the same school.
Both Assistant Editor Lizzie Buehler and Blog Editor David Smith have accepted offers to attend the University of Iowa’s Literary Translation MFA this coming fall. David also wrote a review of an early Jon Fosse novel, Boathouse, for Reading in Translation.
Indonesia Editor-at-Large Norman Erikson Pasaribu spoke with Indonesian writer Eka Kurniawan about his conception of horror, the diversity of Indonesian literature, and the rebirth of the New Order in Mekong Review.
Assistant Managing Editor Sam Carter published an essay at Music & Literature on Jorge Barón Biza’s The Desert and Its Seed.
Blog Editor Sarah Booker‘s translation of Cristina Rivera Garza’s The Iliac Crest (Feminist Press and And Other Stories) was included on the long list for the Best Translated Book Award.
Singapore Editor-at-Large Theophilus Kwek contributed work to Carcanet Press’s latest New Poetries anthology. He also published a piece in The Straits Times comparing citizenship opportunities in the UK (where he was able to vote in the European Union referendum as a Commonwealth citizen) and Singapore.
For more news from the Asymptote blog:
We wrap up an exciting week for the Asymptote team—and for the book club in particular—with our weekly roundup of world literature. This week, Barbara Halla gives us the latest on authors and festivals in Albania and Kosovo, including Ismail Kadare, who was featured in the Winter 2018 issue. Cassie Lawrence explores the latest in British publishing, including an exciting diversity endeavor from Jacaranda Books. Finally, Kate Garrett shares the latest literary award winners in Australia. Enjoy a reading-filled weekend!
Barbara Halla, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Albania and Kosovo
Kadare might have been snubbed for the Nobel Prize once more last year, but 2018 is going well for him already. We are barely two months in and Kadare is collecting prizes. In January, he won the Italian Nonino International Prize, whose previous winners include Claude Lévi-Strauss and V. S. Naipaul. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development launched its first literary prize as well, with Kadare’s The Traitor’s Niche making the inaugural shortlist. As if this weren’t enough, the English-speaking public will receive two new books by Kadare, both published in early 2018. A Girl in Exile (translated by John Hodgson) is both an adaptation of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and a nostalgic look at Tirana during Communism. Restless Books, on the other hand, is issuing for the first time in English a collection of Kadare’s essays aptly titled Essays on World Literature: Aeschylus, Dante, and Shakespeare, translated by Ani Kokobobo. For those interested, an excerpt can be read in Asymptote’s latest issue.
Poetry Editor Aditi Machado has created a teaching guide for her recent book of poetry, Some Beheadings (Nightboat Books, 2017). She was also interviewed by Chicago Review of Books about the translatability of poetry.
Communications Manager Alexander Dickow released a short monograph in French on Max Jacob called Jacob et le cinéma (Paris: Nouvelles Editions Jean-Michel Place, 2017).
Guest Artist Liaison Berny Tan’s first solo exhibition, ‘Thought Lines’, opened last month. She also currently has work displayed in an exhibition called ‘Journeys with “The Waste Land”’ at the Turner Contemporary in Margate, UK.
Editor-at-Large for Hungary Diána Vonnák, who joined us in October this year, moved between fiction and nonfiction titles in 2017. Some of these books blurred the lines between both and probed the relationship between invented worlds and our own.
I spent much of this year reading books I would have trouble classifying either as fiction or nonfiction. They reminded me of Geoff Dyer, who began his “Art of Nonfiction” interview with the Paris Review by protesting the division: “Fiction, nonfiction—the two are bleeding into each other all the time.” They do, and the result is often great. Here are my favourites from 2017.
I started the year with Philippe Sands’ East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, an engrossing family memoir-cum-intellectual history. Sands, a human rights lawyer, sets off on a journey to recover his own family history—which leads him back to Lviv, a city in Western Ukraine. Before the Holocaust eliminated its prolific Jewish life, Ralph Lemkin and Hersch Lauterpacht, who would later become legal scholars, both studied there. Just like Sands’ own grandparents, Lemkin and Lauterpacht left their hometowns and were spared from the massacre that eradicated their entire families. Sands combines a precipitating personal memoir with a vivid reconstruction of how the Holocaust led these two thinkers to develop the notions, in Lemkin’s case, of genocide and, in Lauterpacht’s case, of crimes against humanity. Sands shows how their ideas originated from their personal lives, and as he follows Lemkin and Lauterpacht through emigration, he reconstructs their respective intellectual environments. It all culminates in the milestone legal debates that took place after the Holocaust—Sands shows us how Lemkin’s and Lauterpacht’s own compelling circumstances shaped their arguments. It is rare to see legal history woven so seamlessly into personal reflection.
What an overwhelming ten days since the launch of the Asymptote Book Club! We received queries from as far afield as Australia and Canada—so much interest from Canada, in fact, that we decided to open our book club to Canadians four days ago. But why a book club in the first place? some asked. Well, in a nutshell: the idea was to take the important work we have done with our award-winning, free online journal and our Translation Tuesday showcases at the Guardian—that is to say, showcasing the best new writing from around the world, and giving it a physical presence outside of the virtual arena. We also wanted to celebrate (as well as support) the independent publishers who work hard behind the scenes to make world literature possible.
What sets your book club apart from others?
Curation is a big part of what makes the book club special. We have a large team of editors based in six continents to research and pick the best titles available from a wide variety of publishers. Subscribers will receive a brand-new (just published or, in many cases, not even in the bookshops yet), surprise work of fiction delivered to their door each month. This is another thing that distinguishes us from a few other book clubs before us: we choose from new releases only—nothing from a backlist that readers may already have on their bookshelves.
Subscriptions are for three or 12 months (for as little as USD15 a month, shipping included!) and, depending on the package the subscriber picks, they may receive additional perks in the form of Asymptote merchandise and ebooks (see below), but the real focus here is on creating a serious book club for a dedicated reading public. Many subscription services focus as much on the gifts as the books themselves, but we do not see ourselves as experts in tea or socks, so we’re concentrating rather on ensuring our readers get their hands on the most amazing literature we can source, applying the same curatorial instincts that won us a London Book Fair Award in 2015. READ MORE…
Today, we interrupt our regular programming to bring you some exciting news about a groundbreaking initiative we are launching at Asymptote!
We’re thrilled to announce the launch of our latest project: the Asymptote Book Club—a new way for you and your loved ones to dip into the wealth of world literature! For as little as USD15 each month, receive a new fiction title hot off the presses of the very best independent publishers in the UK and the US, specially curated by the Asymptote team and delivered to your door.
When you sign up for the Book Club, you’re supporting not only Asymptote but also independent publishers by helping them continue to publish the best stories from international authors. Subscribe by December 9th to receive our very first title, shipping in December 2017! We also offer gift subscriptions and group discounts, so think about giving those you love a whole new world of reading this holiday season!
As borders of the heart and of the polity continue to thicken and petrify throughout the globe, Asymptote’s cross-cultural mission becomes ever more urgent. 2017 has been an incredible year for us. With readers like you standing behind us, we put together a showcase of Banned Countries’ Literature to fight Trump’s #MuslimBan, gave USD3,000 to six emerging translators through yet another edition of our translation contest, and published 17 Translation Tuesdays at The Guardian. This year has also seen 47 Weekly Dispatches reported from six continents, along with countless reviews and interviews published at the blog. While institutional funding continues to elude us (and we continue to be ineligible for the grants that like organizations in the US or the UK receive), we’ve certainly worked hard to keep bringing you podcasts and educational guides, in addition to massive quarterly issues featuring new writing from upwards of 25 countries per issue.
What better way to end this turbulent year than by pledging your support for free speech, fine literature and meaningful cross-cultural dialogue? If you believe in the importance of our mission, we humbly ask you to pitch in with a one-time contribution or by becoming either an honorary member or a sustaining member. There is still so much more for world literature that we can do with your help. Support Asymptote today!
It’s Friday and that means we are back with the latest literary news from around the world! From Hong Kong, Editor-at-Large Charlie Ng brings us the latest on theater, literary festivals, and poetry readings. MARGENTO brings us exciting news about past Asymptote-contributors and other brilliant writers from Romania and Moldova. Finally, our own assistant blog editor, Stefan Kielbasiewicz shares news about poetry in the UK.
Charlie Ng, Editor-at-Large, Hong Kong
November is a month filled with vibrant literary performances and festivals in Hong Kong. On stage from late October to early November, a Cantonese version of The Father (Le Père) by French playwright, Florian Zeller, winner of the Molière Award for Best Play, is brought to Hong Kong audiences by the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre for the first time.
The seventeenth Hong Kong International Literary Festival kicked off on November 3 with a grand dinner with Scotland’s well-loved crime fiction writer, Ian Rankin, who also attended two other sessions as a guest speaker: Mysterious Cities: the Perfect Crime Novel and 30 Years of Rebus with Ian Rankin. Carol Ann Duffy was another Scottish writer featured in this year’s Festival. The British Poet Laureate read her poetry with musician John Sampson’s music accompaniment on November 9. The dazzling Festival programme includes both international authors such as Hiromi Kawakami, Amy Tan, Min Jin Lee, Ruth Ware, Hideo Yokoyama, and local writers and translators such as Xu Xi, Louise Ho, Dung Kai-cheung, Nicholas Wong, Tammy Ho, and Chris Song.
We’re in the second half of the year and summer—or winter, depending on where you are located—is full of literary activities. From the announcement of the Man Booker Prize longlist and the release of a new book by a beloved Spanish poet to Argentinian bookselling events, Asymptote editors are telling it all!
Executive Assistant Cassie Lawrence reporting from the UK:
Two days ago, the Man Booker Prize longlist was released, comprising a list of literary heavyweights and two debut novelists. The most hyped title, perhaps—and the most expected one—is The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy’s first work of fiction in two decades. Chosen from 144 submissions, the longlist has 13 titles, often referred to as the “Man Booker Dozen.” Other authors on the longlist include Zadie Smith, Mohsin Hamid, Ali Smith and Colson Whitehead.
On Monday, July 17, the London Book Fair (LBF) recorded a webcast on “Creativity, Crafts and Careers in Literary Translation.” Three panelists—translator Frank Wynne, agent Rebecca Carter and consultant and editor Bill Swainson—joined acclaimed journalist, Rosie Goldsmith to speak on the opportunities and challenges in getting world literature translated. The webcast followed from a successful programme at LBF’s Literary Translation Centre last spring, and was funded by Arts Council England.
In other news, two-times Booker-winning publisher One World have paid a six-figure sum for a YA trilogy from US actor Jason Segel, reports The Bookseller. The first title, Otherworld, is due to be released on October 31 this year, and will center on a virtual reality game with dark consequences. Segal, known for his roles in films such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall and I Love You, Man has written the trilogy with his writing partner, Kirsten Miller. READ MORE…
Smaller European literatures don’t necessarily come from geographically or numerically small nations, but they are generally clustered in what for, say, English, French, or German readers, are European peripheries like the Balkans, the Baltic, Central and Eastern Europe, the Low Countries, the Mediterranean and Scandinavia. They are written in less widely spoken languages, come from less familiar traditions and depend on translation to reach an international audience. A project called ‘Translating the Literatures of Small European Nations’, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, aimed to understand both the challenges and opportunities that exist for these literatures as they try to break into the cultural mainstream in the UK, and in June 2017 we finally published a report on our findings.
Our project brought together four academics from the UK who promote very different smaller literatures―not only through their teaching and research, but also through various kinds of public engagement and publisher collaboration: I work on Czech and Slovak at Bristol, Rhian Atkin on Portuguese at Cardiff, Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen on Scandinavian and Zoran Milutinović on South Slav at UCL. We sensed that we work quite similarly, in parallel or even in competition, without much opportunity to discuss how our smaller literatures perceive and promote themselves internationally and how they are received by readers. We suspected that this parallel, competitive experience applied more generally to other professional advocates of smaller European literatures, whether translators, publishers, literary agents or state and third-sector promoters.
New week, new happenings in the world of literature. President Trump continues to make headlines (read our Spring Issue for an exploration of literature in the Trump era). Madeline Jone, Editor-at-Large for USA reports how it has affected the publishing industry. Across the Atlantic, Cassie Lawrence, Executive Assistant at Asymptote, relays heartening news about women in publishing and the buzz of literary festivals in London this weekend. Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek reports how Singapore’s novelists are fighting back, and more.
Editor-at-Large Madeline Jones gives us the round-up from USA:
US media narratives have been deluged with news of presidential catastrophes. No surprise, then, that this is reflecting in the publishing world, from book publishers struggling to understand how to talk about Trump to children, to books about the electoral process. With timing that seems ominous, in the light of the very popular TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the book has edged its way between a Danielle Steel and a James Patterson on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Another notable that has been on the list is Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign.
Speaking of which, the annual Book Expo America, popularly known as the BEA, is scheduled from May 31 to June 2, and Hillary Clinton is one of its top draws this year. A gathering of publishers, booksellers, agents, librarians, and authors in New York City, the Book Expo is the biggest event of its kind in North America.